The Magic of Reg Park by David Gentle
The eloquent American preacher, and bodybuilding fan of yesteryear, Henry Ward Beacher, once gave a definition of greatness as,
“Greatness lies not in being strong but in the right using of strength, and strength is not used rightly when it only serves to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory."
He is greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own, “Reg Park comes under that definition.
Reg Park remains one of the greatest bodybuilders Britain has ever produced, with no discredit to any of the previous champions in the UK, be it the era, training methods, or post-war diet restrictions.
Reg was the premier British bodybuilder to compare with, compete against and later surpass many of the American champions. Far more than just a muscle man, he had that something extra to distinguish him.
Call it composure or charisma, Reg always maintained a friendly and relaxed, yet somehow regal presence. Forever a good sport, a term which almost sounds old fashioned, he was gracious even in defeat, which happens to all champions at some point.
Born in Leeds on June 17th, 1928, Reg enjoyed an athletic childhood, but with no great physical development in evidence as early photos prove. He was introduced to the delights of weight training by bodybuilder Dave Cohen when he was only 17 years old and made fair progress with basic schedules for a year. This progress was then interrupted when Reg joined the British Armed Forces, where he became a physical training instructor (PT1). He served in Malaya and then returned to the UK in 1948, just in time to see the Olympic Games, then held in London. He was also present to view the first NABBA Mr. Universe contest, which, as history records, was won by John C. Grimek. Grimek was a great inspiration to Reg.
Reg enthused with bodybuilding after seeing the Universe show and started training hard as only he could. He increased his bodyweight form 180 lbs to 225 lbs, stood at 6’1” with upper arms gaining quickly from 14” to 18” in just one year. He trained especially hard throughout the last few months at Henry Arkins’ old Viking Gym. This tough training paid off and resulted with him winning the Mr. Britain 1949 title at a Health and Strength show. Paul Newington came 2nd and John Lees came 3rd. The Chief Judge was John Grimek.
In the days when it was difficult to obtain good publicity for weight trainers and bodybuilders, Reg broke new ground by having a life-size double spread of his arms flexed in respectable Picture Post magazine. This was both interesting and useful as a comparison with one’s own puny arms, and it must have graced many a gym wall in those innocent days. That same year Reg won the Mr. Europe title. His parents had always encouraged him and rewarded his success with a paid trip to the USA, where he arrived in December 1949. His first exhibition in the States was held at John Terlazzo’s show, and he was met with great acclaim.
Whilst in America Reg trained at many of the famous gyms, meeting and working out with most of the stars form that era, including Steve Reeves, George Eiferman, Clancy Ross, Jack Delinger, Alan Stephen et al. Reg also met Joe Weider and trained with the worlds strongest teenager, Marvin Eder. Reg carefully studied their training methods and dieting habits, and he learned fast. During his stay at St. Nick’s Arena in New York in September 1950, he was sponsored by the AAU. He won the title of America’s Best Developed Athlete against such top opposition as Alan Stephen, 1949 Mr. American, Floyd Page and Ed Theriault, Mr. Canada, amongst others, in a historic line up. In 1950, Reg entered the NABBA Mr. Universe contest in London. He came a close second to the superbly conditioned and extremely aesthetic Steve Reeves.
After this brief setback, Reg continued undaunted and won the 1951 Mr. Universe title to become the first British bodybuilder to take the top award in bodybuilding.
Later in 1958, he became the first man to win two Universe titles. He again entered in 1971, competing against Bill Pearl, who was in the greatest shape of his life, and Sergio Olivia. In this epic battle, which I personally witnessed likewise the previous two, he took third place, but at 43 years old showed true championship form. This show, in my opinion, was one of the greatest I’ve ever witnessed.
In between the competitive years, Reg continued with his training. In 1952, he produced a fine muscle magazine called at first Mr. Universe and then later, dropping the American interest, simply called it The Reg Park Journal. This magazine sold around 40,000 copies a month in the UK and 3,000 in South Africa.
In his magazine he advised training for all round shape, plus encouraged power training.
The latter, influenced no doubt by his association with American stars, such as Marvin Eder, and Reg’s own determination and love of lifting heavy poundages.
Apart form his own magazine Reg wrote hundreds of superior and authoritative articles on training for a host of magazines.
Breaking all Records
In the course of his training, Reg broke a great number of British records, including the dumbbell press record by lifting 258 lbs in 1953. I asked him to quote some other poundages and he replied, “In the early 1950’s I would regularly use 185 lbs dumbbells for reps on an incline and flat bench. I couldn’t fit any more weight onto the rods. I could rep out with 510 lbs for squats (authors note: I know the top guys of today can do that or more but during that period a good squat was between 300-400 lbs. With the time scale involved it would be akin to squatting 1,000 lbs. or more) and did a 605 lbs bench press for 2 reps at Buster McShane and Ivan Dunbar’s gym in Belfast. I also bench 500 lbs in March 1953, again in Belfast. I also benched 500 lbs in March 1953, again in Belfast. As well, I could press behind neck with 300 lbs, and also performed alternate presses with 120 lbs of dumbbells and curled 100 lbs. dumbbells. “I’d ask you to reread those weights and consider just how far ahead they were above most of Reg’s contemporaries.
Prior to the influence of Reg Park most UK trainees would use comparatively light weights for just one set happily squatting with their own bodyweight. Following Reg’s example, top lifters soon raised their standards with bench presses going from 200 to 400 or more. Reg, along with his father, had their own company selling weights, equipment, books and courses, all to promote bodybuilding for the masses.
Traveling extensively and doing exhibitions, Reg met his wife, Mareon, in South Africa. By 1958, he had emigrated to Johannesburg, where he owned and ran several large gyms and sponsored the Mr. Republic South Africa contests. For most of these shows he flew guest stars in especially in 1963 it was Len Sell, then Joe Abbenda, Bill Pearl in 1965 and also Larry Scott in 1966.
Another great star and personal guest of Reg’s was the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had developed what he himself admits was an intense desire to be the world’s best bodybuilder at the tender age of 15 and always cites his idol as one Reg Park. Reg recalls, “I first met Arnold at a show put on by Wag Bennett during one of my visits to the United Kingdom from South Africa. He had just come second to Chet Yorton in his first ever NABBA Universe show. It was obvious to me even then that he had lots of talent and I brought him over to South Africa as a guest posers, which he enjoyed immensely”.
In the same way Reg followed Steve Reeves in winning the Universe title, so he also entered the world of movies, by becoming famous for his role as Hercules. Unlike Steve though, Reg insisted on retaining his full muscularity and really did look the part. His first film, of several in which he also proved to be a good actor, was called Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis, made at Cinecitta near Rome. For reasons of his own he insists he never even watched his screen test for Hercules when offered the part. He said, “I never concerned myself with watching movies in which I starred.” After a successful screen career, and Spa Cinema Rome offered Reg a great deal of money to continue, but he refused, he returned to his South African gym business. He later returned once more to the UK to enter the Universe contest at the NABBA Silver Jubilee in 1973, coming 4th in the pro class aged 45 years, with a younger Boyer Coe taking top place. Reg has stayed with bodybuilding for most of his life and has received many accolades. Reg was presented with a commemorative plaque for his “Outstanding Contributions to the Sport of Bodybuilding” via the American Bodybuilding Hall of Fame, in 1986, Atlantic City, New Jersey USA. The Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen awarded Reg their 1990 Highest Achievement Award in New York, and in 1993 he was awarded the Oscar Heidenstam Foundation Hall of Fame Award. An exceptional event in itself, made even more unforgettable by a tribute paid to Reg by his son, Jon Jon Park, and Reg’s own acceptance speech. As recently as 1996, Joe Weider, who’s seen them all over the years, said these kind words, “Reg Park was, and is, a man of culture and a true gentleman.”
Today, Reg commutes form South Africa to California on a fairly regular basis to be with his family, his wife Mareon, daughter Jeunese, grandchildren Tamarac, Lana and Kaya. His son Jon Jon, married to Michelle, has a son of his own called Trent. Jon Jon trains, as does Reg sometimes, on a one-to-one basis often at World Gym in Santa Monica. Reg trains six or seven days a week for about an hour a day, usually in the morning, and says he still really enjoys training.
Finally, I asked Reg his opinion towards hardcore, drug taking bodybuilding. He answered, “I think the guys who sell drugs to young bodybuilders especially females, should be jailed for life and the key thrown away. Youngsters who are taking drugs are advised to stop at once. The full effects are not yet known but those that are, and the deaths that have resulted, should say enough. It is not the quality of mind and body at age twenty-five you should consider, but how well you ill function when at seventy five.
Ovid, the ancient Roman poet, once said, It is not wealth nor ancestry but honourable conduct and noble disposition that make men great.” I with many others think that Reg Park is one of the true greats of bodybuilding.
A classic Reg Park workout, with one of his training partners, Spencer Churchill, circa 1951, was:
Reg usually trained from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., 3 days a week. He gained 25 lbs of muscle in just 10 months on the above schedule. Sleeping 10 hours a night, and taking protein mixes of honey, milk and cream six times a day.
Reg, like all good champions, must have trained on a million different routines and training schedules and soon discovered what exercises and routines gave him the best results. When asked what the secret of his success was Reg replied, "You must have the right mental attitude when working out and drive yourself hard through dedication and some real rough training.
The Magic of Reg Park Copyright by David Gentle All Rights Reserved
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Reg Park (1928 - 2007)
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